September 15, 2019
Benaroya Hall, Seattle
Clara Schumann Bicentennial Celebration
Grace Memorial Episcopal Church
September 13, 2019
Robert Schumann’s beloved Piano Quartet in E-flat, a trio by Joseph Haydn, and rarely heard masterworks by Clara Schumann, celebrating her 200th birthday. We will also be celebrating our new CD release!
“A lively conversation, balancing Schenkman’s bright tones with rich layers of string sound.”
—Dana Wen, Sunbreak
Trio in F, H.XVI:6
Trio in G Minor, op. 17
Romance in A-flat Major, op. 7, no. 2
Quartet in E-flat Major, op. 47
“Schenkman interprets with subtlety… He clearly adores Clara Schumann, and his heart occasionally peeked out from his sleeve during the Nocturne, hinting at a depth of sentiment the more touching for its restraint.”
— Brian Schuth,
Clara Schumann, née Wieck, was one of the most influential European musicians of the 19th century. She began her career as a child prodigy whose performances dazzled international audiences and who published ten volumes of music while still in her teens. At 18 she was named “Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuosa” at the Austrian court, a first for anyone so young, let alone foreign, Protestant, and female. For most of the century she was at the center of a circle of German musicians dedicated to preserving and continuing the legacy of what would come to be known as Western classical music.
Following her triumph in Vienna, Clara composed a piece she called Souvenir de Vienne which included variations on a theme by Joseph Haydn. And early in their marriage she and Robert Schumann jointly studied scores of chamber music by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Thus it seems fitting to begin our tribute with a short trio by Joseph Haydn, the first major composer of piano trios.
Clara’s only piano trio was composed in 1846 and published in the following year. Clara indicated in a letter that she had dedicated her trio to the pianist and composer Fanny Hensel (née Mendelssohn); however that dedication never appeared in print. Johannes Brahms performed the work in 1854 in Hamburg, and the violinist Joseph Joachim reported that it was a great favorite at the Hannover court where he was employed.
In 1835 Felix Mendelssohn conducted the premiere of a piano concerto by Clara Schumann with the sixteen year old composer as soloist. The middle movement, a romance in the surprising key of A-flat major, is a luscious song without words for piano solo. An obbligato cello joins in two-thirds of the way through, turning a solo song into a duet.
Robert and Clara Schumann were lifelong companions, lovers, and close colleagues who studied music together and often critiqued each other’s work. Clara outlived Robert by four decades. After his tragic early death she worked tirelessly to edit, arrange, and oversee the publication of his complete works while also supporting their large family. During one of their few happy years together Robert wrote a series of exquisite chamber works including his only quartet for piano and strings. Clara premiered this work at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on a program which also included Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor and Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata.